First Drive: 2011 Nissan Quest

Rex Roy

Seeing the Quest in person brings to mind a design executed in drywall. The sides of this van are enormous and nearly flat, a perception enhanced by the van's 6-foot 1-inch height and fact the doors wrap under the body. Even the optional 18-inch wheels look small in the wheel wells. On the plus side, the new Quest displays more design personality than the all-new Toyota Sienna and appears more cohesive than the all-new Honda Odyssey. The Sienna, however, looks a bit cleaner (if blander) because the rear-door tracks are concealed along the lower edge of the rear windows.

The reality with minivans is that their exteriors are secondary to their interiors. You must open the doors to see where manufacturers spend the majority of their development dollars. Do so on the Quest and you'll find a practical 7-passenger environment that's standard on every trim level.

The front compartment is roomy and comfortable. Like nearly all contemporary minivans, the dash thrusts rearward in a shape that harkens back to a day when rear-wheel-drive full-size vans has their engines mounted between the front seats. The modern design is useful because it places controls within easy reach of the driver and front passenger. The front thrones proved most comfortable for the driver. The front passenger had to beware of the protruding center console. The surface facing the front passenger is hard plastic and it's an unpleasant surface for a knee to rub against.

Opening either rear door reveals more than 143.5 cubic feet of maximum cargo space or seats for another five bodies. Access through the rear doors was engineered with little people in mind. A recessed step lowers step-in height to just 15.7-inches. Given the van's exterior shape, you'd expect plenty of room for those in the second and third rows, and there is.

If you must know, there are 16 cup holders.

When van duties require carrying cargo rather than passengers, the second- and third-row fold easily. The seats are not removable, so cargo gets loaded on top of the seat backs and the seats don’t all touch when they are folded down, so the vehicle doesn’t quite have a perfectly flat and even floor to load objects onto.

In addition to the cargo space above the folded seats, the Quest features a huge cargo well behind the third-row. How large? Big enough for your 5-foot 9-inch author to climb in and close the twin covers over his only slightly folded body. The strong yet lightweight lids align with the main floor of the minivan and can support more than 200 pounds.

To help make room for the well, the Quest's spare tire is located under the second-row seats. The under-chassis mount is only accessible from outside the vehicle, and it's a considerable reach. With this arrangement, you'd better hope you never get a flat tire.

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